Won’t You Be My (Muslim) Neighbor?

A Review of Fries’ and Whitfield’s “Islam and North America”

by C. J. Moore November 1, 2018

Editor's Note: The following is a review of Islam and North America: Loving our Muslim Neighbors, a newly released title from B&H Academic, compiled and edited by Micah Fries and Keith Whitfield. The volume is available today from Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Every year on September 11th, you’re sure to get asked that unfortunately familiar question. In his famous song released less than three months after the Towers fell, Alan Jackson put it this way: “Where were you when the world stopped turnin' on that September day?” I remember that day quite well.

I was in fifth grade, sitting in a science lab, when my teacher turned on the TV right as the first tower fell. My initial reaction? “Cool.” I had no idea what was going on, but before the day was over, I did. We continued to watch as the second tower fell. My teacher told us that, as bad as this event was, surely one of the most significant events in American history was unfolding before our eyes. How did we even get through the rest of that day? 

By the time I got home to a panicked family, I was weeping. Young and naïve, I thought our little town in Mississippi was next. Jackson continues into the chorus, “I'm just a singer of simple songs. I'm not a real political man. I watch CNN, but I'm not sure I can tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran.” So, it was their fault. All their fault. Iraq and Iran. And what exactly was I taught concerning these two countries? They were full of Muslims. At age ten, this idea was embedded in my mind: Muslims are the enemy. 

It would be another ten years before I actually met a Muslim. Thankfully, the Lord saved me when I was thirteen. My worldview began to change slowly. It’s probably true I didn’t care for Muslims throughout most of adolescence, but through sanctification, God helped me to see that they were just in need of His grace as I was. When I finally met a Muslim, face-to-face, I became certain they weren’t all as bad as I had been told. Many Muslims are the most sincere and nicest people you’ll ever meet. Many became friends; some even attended our wedding. Yet, as nice as some can be, they are all desperately in need of salvation. The Muslims who find their way to America, legally or illegally, need the gospel of Christ. We need to preach it to them; we need to be their neighbors in the utmost way.

This is exactly what Micah Fries and Keith Whitfield seek to show in their edited work, Islam and North America: Loving Our Muslim Neighbors. I wish I could go back in time and hand this work to my younger self. It is a book for those who still hold that enemy-minded worldview, often due to the trauma of that horrific attack seventeen years ago. It is also for those who no longer see Muslims as the enemy but, nonetheless, need a push to go further than sight and mind. Christians must be moved to action. This is especially so when we consider that many Muslims are a mere walk away!

Fries and Whitfield teach us to move from fear to compassion. Fear – however great or small – often causes “us to miss an opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus with our Muslim neighbors” (xviii). On the other hand, compassion leads us to a “labor ‘motivated by love’” (xvii). The authors’ aim is simple: “Our goal is... to alleviate some unfounded concerns and encourage us as Christians to let love overcome legitimate concerns so that we might be available to engage the newcomers next door” (xix). Truly, this neighborly outreach is a pioneerkind of work, for it’s an opportunity “to reach unreached peoples” (xx). Islam and North America prepares us to engage in this way.  

As you read this book, you’ll be informed of the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity, thus equipping you to appropriately and contextually build a bridge to the gospel of Christ. You’ll learn about the globalization of Islam. The truth is, we live in a multi-faith reality. Ed Stetzer demonstrates this in his chapter, and each author points back to this reality throughout the book. This present world – for some reason – is exactly as God has ordained it. What shall we do, then? We must learn to live faithfully in our religiously diverse world. 

What’s more, you’ll be asked to consider some difficult questions. 

  • Should we defend the religious liberty of Muslims? 
  • Do we worship the same God as Muslims? 
  • Are all Muslims taught to fight non-Muslims in a radicalized way? 
  • Do all Muslims want to implement Sharia Law? 

Thankfully, the authors are forthright with their answers. At the same time, they also offer needed nuance to these discussions. These are not easy questions to answer, but they are questions we must consider, and our answers will surely affect the way we engage Muslims.

Woven throughout the book is a consistent theme of love. The authors want you to love your Muslim neighbors, for they know that when you come to love them, you will seek the greatest good for them; namely, you will seek to proclaim the gospel. The authors don’t address the issue at surface level; rather, they go for the heart. Many Christians don’t share the gospel with Muslims because they don’t truly love Muslims. This must change.

Stetzer writes, “The future of Christian witness is learning to live with multi-faith neighbors... and lovingpeople of other faiths, engaging them with the Christian message” (6). Keith Whitfield reminds us, “Christians are called to make disciples of all nations by sharing God’s loveas demonstrated in the sending of his Son to die for the sins of all people” (62). Ayman Ibrahim expresses his desire to help you “understand how Muslims think about [fighting] and prepare you tolovethem even as religiously motivated violence escalates around the world” (79). Micah Fries inspires pastors “to equip and deploy their members toloveand engage their neighbors for the sake of the gospel” (112). D.A. Horton tells us, “The goal... is to help you develop a lovefor your Muslim neighbors” (121-122). Hitting on the enemy-worldview, Shirin Taber says, “[We] need to love our enemies as Christ commanded us to do” (134). Afshin Ziafat speaks of the Muslim’s greatest need: “The unconditional loveof God is what Muslims most need to see and hear from us,” for this is “the way God sees [Muslims] – with compassion and love” (159-160). And lastly, Miguel Echevarria writes of how God’s people, even in the Old Covenant, were told “to loveand care for the immigrant as they would other vulnerable persons” (168). 

It’s almost as if the authors want us to catch something important! With an emphasis on love, the authors helpfully move us away from a polemical model of outreach void of love. This model of ministry is often more hurtful than it is helpful. Yes, Peter says to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” but he says to do this “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). Fries and Whitfield help us improve the way we do this.

Whether we like it or not, the bottom line is this: it is estimated that “3.3 million Muslims lived in America in 2015,” and that population could “grow to more than 8 million by 2050” (4). This should not lead to fear; rather, it should lead to gratefulness. A majority of the world’s unreached people come from a Muslim context. They live in some of the hardest-to-reach places in the world. We couldn’t get to them even if we wanted to! But now, God has brought them to our doorsteps. As Esther 4:14 says, could it be that God has us here “for such a time as this?” If God is sovereign (hint: He is), then the answer is yes.

So, invite Muslim friends into your home. Take a Muslim friend out to dinner. Eat at their restaurants. Enjoy a game of Catan with them. Play basketball with them. Whatever it takes, learn about your Muslim neighbors from your Muslim neighbors and respond lovingly with the only truth that can set them free. 

If you desire to reach the Muslims around you, I cannot recommend Islam and North America enough. Get this book. I am grateful the authors put it together, for the Church desperately needs a work like this. My desire is that many Muslims would come to glorify the name of God. I pray that God uses this book to equip His people to lead them to doing just that.